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Is it still meaningful if it’s sponsored?

I noticed recently that all my Facebook friends were posting the same video about a man using pop bottles to light up Third World shacks. At first I assumed it was just some spammy viral video hijacking accounts, because that’s usually the case when my friends all start posting the same video — “Watch the shocking things this teen does!” But when it started showing up on G+ as well, I thought it might be legit, so I checked it out. Here it is:

It is legit. Sort of.

About 30 seconds in, I started thinking, “This video about product hacks is actually a Pepsi commercial.” By the time I’d finished watching the video, I was convinced it was a Pepsi commercial. So I did a little Googling. It turns out this video is a Pepsi commercial, albeit one that is based on another video that isn’t a commercial. I think.

But does that make the Pepsi version any less valuable? The video still shows how people can improve their lives, and still points to an aid agency that is presumably real. And most if not all of my friends obviously missed the fact it was advertising a product at all. So does that make the Pepsi video any less meaningful?

Yes and no. I think the fact that Pepsi hid its involvement outside of the product placement will ultimately reflect badly on the company, as people will react angrily to being duped. No one wants to be an unwitting viral marketer. Had Pepsi simply presented a video documentary about this amazing achievement, with a “Pepsi salutes” intro and perhaps some donation dollars, people would happily kept on sharing this video while chugging Pepsi cola. But the fact they chose to hide it makes the whole thing seem like a calculated deception, and will likely prompt people to delete the video from their streams.

Which is a shame, because people really need to watch this video and help out with this cause.

Come on, Pepsi. Step up and do the right thing. The real thing.